A Summer Of Football…

Part 1…

The start of summer indicates the end of the season for most football clubs, but for Yorkshire St. Pauli FC it’s just the start. The so-called ‘summer’ weather means we can arrange friendlies and organise our tournament, as well as taking part in the friendlies and tournaments organised by our friends and likeminded clubs. It’s those summer days that we cherish, sharing a pitch with ace people in a great environment and making the most of the rare sunshine, if we’re lucky. 

One of the requests from our players over the last couples of years has been to play more 11-a-side matches, so we’ve steadily tried to incorporate more of these into our schedule as well as continuing the weekly kickabouts with Football For All. Our venture into 11-a-side has been a mixed bag of results, with an ever-changing line-up and a number of elementary errors in our game; including the struggle in mastering how to take a throw-in or staying onside. We got a bit good in 2016, more though individual ability than a collective idea of tactics – but we quite enjoyed it and hoped that would continue in 2017, but it didn’t.

May started with a new venture for us – training sessions. In the loosest possible sense you can imagine. It was less drills and warm-up exercises, and more trying to wrecklessly recreate that Mandzukic goal in the Champions League. 10 weeks of training sessions, partly funded by Football Supporters Europe, helped us introduce players to the basic ideas of a ‘training session’ without actually doing much in the way of training. We covered the offside rule in two sentences, the foul throw in one attempt and the Mandzukic wondergoal in considerably more than 100 attempts. But we enjoyed it, which is what it was all about.

Unfortunately, as Summer approaches, so do the wonderful events that embrace Leeds during the summer months. Events that close all the roads in and around Powerleague meaning we effectively are shut off from reaching the venue. First session of the summer called off due to a marathon. Inconsiderate running folk.

Buoyed by our training sessions, we headed to Hamburg for our second international fixture – a rematch against our best mates, FC Lampedusa St. Pauli. It should be noted that our travelling team was lacking several key players and instead consisted of those who have more ability in drinking pints than scoring goals. FCLSP were keen, as would any youthful team with lots of energy against a team which contained some players over double their age. It was a struggle, so much so that i had no idea what the final scoreline was. Was it 6-0? 9-0? The record books only show a 3-0 victory; but it felt a lot harder than that. Thankfully we were saved quite literally by Siri, our goalkeeper who saved the heavy influx of shots that came her way to keep the scoreline respectable and to save our dignity after a 10-1 defeat in the first leg.

The following week and the start of June, we were back home for our first domestic friendly of the summer, against a group of mates assembled by one of our founding members. Unfortunately, they were good. Very good. A battling/ spirited/ determined performance from our team couldn’t stop them as they won 3-1. That said, the weather was grand.

A few weeks prior to the game I had been at the PAFRAS drop-in session wearing a St. Pauli skull and crossbones tshirt, when one of our players asked if we had any St. Pauli tshirts like mine. We didn’t, so we tried to correct that. We got in touch with the club with the idea of getting permission to print the skull and crossbones on tshirts to pass to our players, and explained the situation. Shortly after came the response. The club would love to help, and would send us some tshirts and would also print the YSP logo on them for us. They arrived just in time for the game. Now our players can represent St. Pauli everywhere we go.

The following week there’s another load of road closures because of somert else happening in Leeds that’s seemingly more important than Footy For All, so we have to cancel. Next up was the fantastic ‘Balls to Borders’ tournament in Leeds which raised a load of money for some great causes and was a top day, including more good weather. YSP FC magic their way to the final before becoming unstuck. We won a couple of raffle prizes though so all was not lost. 20 or so folk turned up for Footy For All the following day, some couldn’t walk let alone play footy again.

June was the most hectic month we’ve had in the 6 years of YSP. On top of the matches, training sessions and tournaments, five of our players started the FA level one coaching course, spending 4 consecutive Saturday’s in a classroom. We didn’t know what to expect from the course, and i could tell you all about playing high and wide, using transitions and scoring points at every opportunity. However, on a serious note, the coaching course was a really useful tool that enabled us to develop our knowledge around football, safeguarding and first aid and how we could adapt these to our existing Football For All sessions whilst still maintaining the relaxed and uncompetitive nature of the sessions that are one of the key factors in the project. On a serious note, we must thank the FA for their assistance in providing the course and helping us get on it as a group, and to those who backed our Crowdfunding campaign at the start of the year which made the coaching opportunity possible. The coaching course allowed us to develop as individuals as well as a group, and will provide invaluable knowledge as we continue with Football For All.

Secondly, going back to our promise to our players of trying to provide more 11-a-side matches, we entered the West Riding FA Summer ‘Flexi League’. It was the first time we’d dipped our toes into the unknown waters of competitive football, and admittedly one which we knew wasn’t without risks, as we didn’t know what to expect from the league or our opponents. Over the past four years we’ve only played against teams of a similar nature to us, teams who have a similar ethos, mentality and approach to football. That little bubble is a double-edged sword. It’s comfortable in so far as you can trust your opponents, you know you’re going to play in a friendly and inclusive environment. But it also means we aren’t sharing our message with the wider public, challenging behaviours and showcasing what YSP FC is about. On a personal level, i hadn’t played competitive football for nearly 15 years. After leaving school i’d avoided Men’s football because of the preconceived idea i had that it was aggressive, unwelcoming and that my limited ability wouldn’t be welcome. I’m sure i’m not the only player amongst our squad to have had similar thoughts and experiences, but yet for the past four years we’ve played football in our little bubble where ability is irrelevant, in a friendly, safe, welcoming environment. Despite our trepidation, we decided as a group that we wanted to give players the opportunity to play in a competitive environment.

Training session. Cones and all.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and we’re stood on the touchline ahead of our first Flexi League fixture, watching the final 10 minutes of the game that is on before us. One set of players are intent on winding up the opposition left-back. There’s verbals, aggressive challenges, shouting from the touchline as the manager encourages it – i’m sure we were all stood with our mouths wide open at what we had let ourselves in for. Gulp.
We were wrong. Over the next couple of months we played five games, and didn’t once encounter any of what we had feared. Although the football was competitive and the ability gap a little bit too big (results to follow in part 2), the worries we had were completely unfounded. Perhaps this was the summer sun, the friendly nature of the league or just that most teams were considerably better than us – but we really enjoyed it, and ended the final game saying how much we’d miss the midweek games.

Part 2…

With our coaching sessions taking place at Middleton, and also the majority of our Flexi league games and friendlies also being played there, i genuinely felt i should bring a sleeping bag and live there for the rest of the month, as i’d seen more of the receptionist than my fiancé (a personal milestone also in June, amongst everything else..).

June ended with that first Flexi league fixture. A 6-0 defeat at the hands of AFC United where we felt we didn’t deserve the final result. We gave away an early penalty and we didn’t get into the game from then on.

July started with a brilliant Football For All session which was followed by our annual ‘awards’ ceremony. Our awards recognised people’s contribution to the club and their team-mates as opposed to their ability. It also awarded the person most likely to be late, in the hope that next year they might arrive on time occasionally!

The following week our coaches finally completed their Level One coaching course on the Saturday, and then headed off to York on the Sunday for a friendly against ‘Boca’ – a team we’d never met before but who had been pointed in our direction by our friends at Republica Internationale. The game was to mark their 25th anniversary. It’s always a bit nervy playing against teams you’ve never played before. First you’ve got to meet them for the first time, which is a bit like going on a blind date. Then for us, we hope that teams have a similar fair and friendly way of playing football to ourselves. BOCA turned up to the blind date with a carrier bag of fruit, sandwiches and snacks from the local bakery as well as a brilliant bit of artwork thanking us for turning up. 10/10 for introductions. It’s a shame that the team now only meet up very occasionally with them spread all over Yorkshire and beyond, because the match was one of my highlights of the summer.

It was one of the hottest days of aforementioned summer (admittedly not too many of those to choose from). The older heads of BOCA, with some younger players drafted in at short notice, were quick to show that they’ve been playing football a lot longer than we have – despite their protests that they were far too old to compete with our youthful looking squad. A game of 5-a-side ended in a BOCA victory, before we decided to make use of the full 11-a-side pitch. YSP FC made a couple of emergency loan signings from the opposition to make our numbers up, and we were off. The game was a thriller and ended up about 6-4 or something similar to YSP FC. When we could run no longer we called time and headed to the pub for a pint with our hosts, before we took our players in a whirlwind tour of York city centre.

Thursday saw our next game in the Flexi League, up against Jerry ‘The Saint’ St. Clair’s Phoenix Club. It was an encouraging performance, but the pace and mobility of striker Brian Potter saw him score a hat-trick against us in a 3-0 defeat. Full match report can be found here: https://yorkshirestpauli.com/2017/07/21/match-report-ysp-0-3-phoenix-club/

Week off next weekend then? If only. It’s the biggest day of the calendar year – the Yorkshire St. Pauli ANTIRA. Months of preparation, weeks of planning, but 24 hours before kick-off we lose two teams and have no idea if a couple of others will show. Panic. But 30 minutes before kick-off and we had 15 teams, with St. Augustines on their way from Halifax. A bit of juggling with the schedule to accommodate for teams who had been replaced and the delayed St. Augustines and we were on our way. Unlike St. Augustines. Eventually the team from Halifax arrived and hurriedly got changed, before being thrown on for their first fixture. What they didn’t know is that the vast majority of the group games in their group had already been played as we waited for them to arrive, so they ended up playing 5 consecutive games to catch up! Unfortunately for them, we’d also managed to secure the signing of some decent summer weather for the occasion – so they were absolutely exhausted by the end of their 5th game.

For our organisers, the tournament goes by in a second. Balancing organising duties with playing for your team and trying to communicate to everyone else what the plans are means you barely take note of what is occurring elsewhere. So i can only tell you that St. Augustines were late, and by their 3rd consecutive game they were probably wondering why they’d bothered to turn up.

As teams got knocked out and people started to disappear, the tournament drew to a close with Sub-standard Liege and Manchester St. Pauli winning the trophies and going home with the bragging rights. Neither will be invited back next year. As is customary when teams become too good for their own good. We managed to subsidise the cost of the tournament too through the FSF’s Fans For Diversity fund. If you’re thinking of running a similar event, check their website out!

As always, the real highlight of the day was seeing familiar faces who come together a couple of times a year using football as an excuse to catch up with mates, so thank you to everyone who came and made it ace. See you next year!

July ended with something slightly different at Football For All. With a few people on holiday and others in Bochum for St. Pauli’s opening game of the season, a last minute cancellation of some archery meant our bunch had a taster of bows and arrows.

August? Well that’ll have to wait for part 3. There’s Hummel, Glasgow and much more Flexi League…